Learning the editor’s role as midwife

I’ve worked in start-up environments at each one of my jobs. That meant small teams where you had many roles and responsibilities, even if your official title only listed one of them. Your LinkedIn page may have said Associate Producer, but that probably meant you were also working as a producer, an editor, a booker, a line producer, and a project manager at the very least. These positions forced you to be quick on your feet and learn the job at breakneck speeds. I learned more about editing, recording, how to find sources, and how to pose questions while working more than I ever did at school.

Those workplaces also conditioned me to rely only on myself and avoid delegating. Whether it was print or video or audio, I would take an idea, create deadlines, produce and lead interviews, cut tape, record voiceover tracking, create graphics, edit a story, and publish. Being able to deal with the constant demand, the variety of tasks, and the juggling of deadlines made me cocky. I believed that if I pitched a story or if an editor handed me a piece, I would be able to handle it. 

But Feet in 2 Worlds asked me to do a task I had never done before. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I joined the team, but it sure was not becoming a guide for six other producers and letting them run their stories. Suddenly, my sense of trust was tested because I wasn’t in the driver’s seat. I was just giving some directions. My biggest fear when developing and working on our podcast series Home, Interrupted was that if I couldn’t be active with the story—if I couldn’t put the pieces together myself for each episode—that I might be letting the reporters and my team down.

There were moments where imposter syndrome and doubt crept in. On the second to last day of February, 2024, my boss John Rudolph, Feet in 2 Worlds’ founder and the Executive Producer of Home, Interrupted, called me on the phone to check in.

We had just had our first table read for an episode, and it needed a good amount of editorial support. At one point in our conversation, John told me, “You are the nicest person on the face of the Earth… I think sometimes that gets in the way of your role as an editor.”

John humbled me. Whatever cockiness I may have built up and came in with became nothing more than a memory. Because I knew John was right, of course. Not about being nice, but about getting in my own way. I feared I would be causing more harm than good, so I spoke in subtleties at times when I was giving notes.

I’m a very critical editor when it comes to myself. It’s easy to see my own mistakes in my attempts to find the perfect way to set a scene, describe a character, or just convey information. It’s easy to be direct with myself.

But being in charge of other people’s work is a completely different skillset. And I was indeed trying to be nice. I was working with reporters of varying experience—some had never even produced an audio story before. So, I wanted to avoid the conduct of past editors of mine.

I didn’t want to get into shouting matches, instill my will on the story for the sake of my stubbornness, flip sections in the script for the sake of feeling like I was doing something, frame their ideas as my own, or—worst of all—be disorganized and forget where we were in the story.

I also wanted to make sure they saw what was working instead of just criticizing their work. It didn’t feel productive to identify red flags without at least trying to encourage them about the promising threads in their drafts. Instilling confidence—especially for those newer to this work—was a major priority for me.

When I began my fellowship back in September 2023, Feet in 2 Worlds assigned former fellow Virginia Lora to mentor me. We’d meet up every week on a call, and I would just throw all my updates at her to the point where I would eventually slow down, feel guilty, and ask her about how her own projects were coming along. 

Early on, Virginia told me about a presentation she heard at the Third Coast Festival where Jen Chien described the role of the editor as being synonymous with the role of the midwife. It was my job to help others “give birth” to their stories—whether that was through emotional support, preparing others with what to expect during this process, providing education, discussing deadlines, or conducting the “births” myself if need be. In other words, it was a prerogative that I knew when to take a step back and when I needed to take more active steps in the process so that we could make a healthy delivery.

Taking a step back felt unnatural. While I did create folders and source grids and archival logs and a production schedule, I did my best to allow the group of reporters on the series to run with their stories with as few intrusions as possible. I was glad to offer advice or opinions, but I tried to stay out of the field and Pro Tools. That had to be their terrain.

For the first few weeks of production for Home, Interrupted, my anxiety levels kept spiking because there was a lack of tape—interviews and from the field. Our production began around the holidays, which only created logistical logjams. Potential interviewees had family plans and plane tickets or long car rides and rightfully didn’t want to disrupt their holiday calendar for us. And the reporters and the team had their own vacations they planned to take as well.

After a month passed, every reporter was exactly at the same place where they had started—just with their original story pitches. We had no characters, no scenes, and most importantly: no tape.

Even the episode we were planning to have as our pilot kept running into multiple dead ends. The reporter, Greta Díaz González Vázquez, originally pitched a story where she would go in-person to follow climate refugees from Acapulco in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis. She would be there as they reunited with their families in the U.S. in states like Texas. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a family that was traveling during her reporting time and that would also allow her to record them while they looked to join their family in the United States. And the people we tried to speak to on the ground in Acapulco had lost their phones or computers due to the hurricane.

I started to become nervous.

All I wanted to hear was something recorded. Anything at all. A car driving by or someone taking steps on concrete or even crickets in nature. Literally anything. Those were the moments that tempted me with questions of what I could do. Should I step in?

Those were the exact questions I wanted to avoid from the get-go because they weren’t fair to the reporters who jumped on this series with me. As much as this position was a transition for me, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a transition for them too. Their levels of audio-storytelling expertise ranged widely. I was working with veterans with decades of experience in the print space, but also people transitioning to the journalism space.

Each of them had something different to learn. Maybe it was how to find a good voice or how to make interviews more conversational. Or maybe it was something more technical, like how to cut tape.

The important thing was that they all came—pregnant, if you will—with a great topic for conversation. It was always easy to talk to them since they were excited about their stories. My job as an editor was all about manifesting that interest and helping them express their enthusiasm into a narrative arc.

I can’t express enough how much of a relief it was when the holidays passed by and the new year came. The reporters were sending me tape to listen to. Abstract ideas started metamorphosing into constructed outlines and narrative skeletons—in other words, rough drafts. Soon, we moved toward table reads with the whole team to hear the reporters’ visions for their stories incarnated.

This was the time where I needed to be more proactive in the story. Where I could help guide the drafts to where they needed to be based on the original intention.

If my first exercise was in patience and taking a step back during the reporting process, my second lesson was in being more direct when it came down to this new stage of scripting. 

Out of all the pitches, the milpa cycle episode was the most ambitious. It started off with just an idea: examining unique farming practices, but didn’t focus a lot on the people or moments involved. I talked to the reporter about building up the main character of the story and leading with our strongest scenes. The core of this episode wasn’t the future of farming and biodiversity. This was a story about the identity of a people that wanted to plant roots and build a new home. The end result was the reporter weaving together a fascinating story, one that was better than I imagined when I read her original pitch.

And there were times where things worked themselves out. For a few weeks, Greta—the reporter behind the first episode—and I spoke about pivot points on how to find interesting voices for her narrative. There were a lot of phone calls and GoFundMe pages and charity organization videos we combed through. One day, Greta asked if she could tell me an idea for a new way to tell a story about the aftermath of Hurricane Otis in Acapulco.

“When we think about people who have been forced out of their homes due to climate-related disasters, we always think about those who migrate, but we rarely think about those who are forced to stay,” Greta told me over Zoom. “This story is about how struggles such as taking care of one’s parents from afar worsen with natural disasters. However, it’s also about the hope that is created by organizations that use their creativity to strengthen family ties despite climate change and the long distance between parents and their immigrant daughters.”

She was worried I wasn’t going to like her idea, but her new pitch held more depth and complexity than ever.

I feel pride for this band of Home, Interrupted reporters. They each grew through the editorial process. Somehow, every time we reached the third table read for each episode, the pieces felt like they were aligning into place.

Every time I hear kind words from listeners reacting to the series now that it’s out and completed, I don’t like taking any of the commendation for myself. I’m just happy to see these pieces come to life and out in the world. I am just happy to be the midwife.

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AboutIgnazio Monda
Iggy Monda is a born-and-bred New Yorker. When he was young, he dreamed of being the second coming of Derek Jeter. Unfortunately, while Jeter is 6’3”, Iggy...is not. But he is a multilingual journalist of average height that has produced audio series, video explainers, and written articles for Religion of Sports, Yahoo! Finance, NBC’s Today.com, and Overtime. Iggy has covered a range of beats from the business of Aeroterror between Venezuela and Hezbollah to the anti-vax movement in the US. He most recently hosted Roughhousing, a six-episode series that puts a spotlight on the phenomenon of hazing in high school sports.